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How do I stand out in my job search?

Aug 1, 2023, 15:50 PM
Title : How do I stand out in my job search?
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Duration : 15 minutes
Originally published : Aug 1, 2023, 14:20 PM


How can you add more experience to your resume? How can you improve your personal brand? And, where do you start when thinking about a career change? 

Rob VanDorin, director of the Career Development Center at Central Michigan University, has answers to some of the most asked questions about setting yourself apart in a competitive job market. 



Adam: It's an extremely competitive job market out there. How can you set yourself apart from candidates on paper, online, and in the interview? Welcome to The Search Bar. You've got questions. Let's find some answers. Bypass Google and sidle up to the search bar instead as Central Michigan University's amazing team of experts answer some of the internet's most asked questions. I'm your host, Adam Sparkes, and on today's episode, we are searching for answers on career development. Rob VanDorin, director of the Career Development Center at Central Michigan University is here to help us do just that. Hi, Rob. Thanks for coming in. 

Rob: Glad to be here. 

How does low unemployment impact the job market? 

Adam: All right. So, we're gonna talk a little bit about jobs and getting a job. I don't know if you knew this or not <laugh>. I bet you did. 

Rob: Now I do, right? <laugh> 

Adam: Well, do you know this, we have historic unemployment right now. I think I'm probably way wrong on this, but it's like something 1950, 1951. Something about the early fifties. 

Rob: It was the last time it was this low. Yeah. Right. 

Adam: Yeah. So I guess, what does that mean right now? Like, to you? Like, what are you seeing in your role of helping young people go out and get jobs?

Rob: Right. So, the good thing about a low unemployment rate means there tend to be more openings for you to go and seek. So right now it's really about finding the fit. So one of the things that we talk to, either working professionals or students or recent graduates is a term that you sometimes hear in the industry is called T-shaped Professional. So what you're looking for is you're looking for a breadth of knowledge, but then the down part of the T is then the depth of the experience that you have. So what you're going to want to do is with the fact that there's so many openings right now causing low unemployment rates for individuals, because there's so many opportunities, is really finding where's that right fit for you. And so when we talk about the depth of your knowledge, it's really in order to be the most competitive that you can be is instead of necessarily looking at the breadth of what you know, you can really look at the depth of what you know and say, okay, I have this depth of knowledge in a certain area, so I'm gonna go and find those opportunities because I know that's where I can be the best fit, make the most impact, and have the greatest knowledge to help out that individual. 

Where unemployment rates are higher and it's harder to find a job, you sometimes have to kind of go more of that breadth of saying, this is where maybe I don't have as much knowledge, but it's somewhere where I can still maybe potentially make an impact. Which makes it harder to find a job because you're competing with more individuals. Right now, if you wanna reference it to real estate, it's a buyer's market, not a seller's market. That's how unemployment is right now. So, it's a good time to be looking for a job because there's lots of opportunity. And with low unemployment rates, if you are a well-qualified candidate, it's a good time to be looking for a job.  

How can I add more relevant experience to my resume? 

Rob: Now, college is one of the best times for you to gain additional experiences. So, that doesn't just apply here at CMU, it's at most institutions that somebody might go to, but just using CMU as an example, right? 

You can study abroad, you can get involved in the volunteer center. We have, I can't even keep track cuz every day there seems like we have more student organizations on campus that provide you opportunities to get involved in leadership and organization. We've got a Leadership Institute you can get involved in. So while you might be studying, let's say finance, for example, you might be studying finance. So, if you go back to the T-shaped analogy, the downward portion of the T is finance, right? I know managerial finance, I know markets, I know certain things. So as I go down finance, that's important. However, one of the things that employers are looking for right now is breadth. But the breadth is changing from, so the example I use for myself is more of a mid-career person. I have lots of professional experiences. As a 22-year-old in your example, you're not gonna have that same breadth of professional experiences. 

So I see that top portion of the T for a college student being more in that soft skill or transferable skill area. So they're gonna wanna say, okay, I know that this individual has a depth of experience in finance, in our example, apply any other major discipline to it. But they also know how to effectively communicate. They also know how to be in leadership. They also know how to do some of these other things. They've had a study abroad opportunity so they know how to work with people in diverse cultures and diverse backgrounds. 

How can I improve my personal brand? 

Rob: One thing we talk a lot about in our office, and again this is regardless of where you're at in your career, is branding. Every company has a brand, but every person has a brand. 

Adam: Oh and a hundred percent. 

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. And so, part of the reason this recently came up is with all the AI stuff that's going on, is we've seen students come in with AI's written the cover letter for them it's like, wow, those are some really impressive words that you might not have known. 

And so it sounds really sharp, however, there's no personality to it. It doesn't show your brand. It shows what a computer thinks it is best. And it also might not link to the brand there. Cause I mean we can think of two different companies in an industry. Even just if you look at higher education, you can look at two different universities and they can be completely different. They both have the same underlying goal of educating their students, impacting the community and helping students find employment. However, the culture, the brand, everything is completely different. Your brand matching their brand, you don't wanna fake it because that's just gonna lead to burnout. And you turning around six months later and looking for maybe something else because you were like, well I know they're looking for this type of person, so I'm going to become that person. 

And then you get in there and it's like, okay, well day one, that's fine. I wanted day two, day three. Oh my god, <laugh>. Like, I'm not who I am anymore. I'm not enjoying this because, you know, and, and it just doesn't work out for either party.

How can I leverage social media in my job search?

Rob: To the social media aspect. This is something that we talk with college students with a lot. I find myself challenged because I don't feel like I'm at a place where I'm keeping up on social media all the time. But thankfully I have a lot of staff that are younger and more wise to the social media ways to work with those students than myself. LinkedIn is a chance, it's the professional social media platform. It's a great chance to connect with people. It's a great chance to show organizations you're part of, like I said earlier, just kind of put down the nuts and bolts of what you've done in your career. 

Because again, you're not gonna want to build out a ton of bullet points. You're not gonna want to add a ton of stuff because you're gonna end up customizing it anyways. If you end up going down that path, it's making sure you're staying connected and you know, oh, that's the person I can go connect with them, I met them at a conference, I met them at that meeting. It's a good chance. But LinkedIn is not the only social media. And like you were talking earlier about consistency. So, if I've got a nice LinkedIn picture where I'm wearing a suit and tie, talk about the importance of branding, I talk about the importance of who I am, making an impact on my community, making an impact for students. And then you go, okay, well there's also 17 other social media platforms or however many are out there now and you go and search me on another one and it's completely non-professional. 

Some things on there are semi-inappropriate - to your point, brand consistency. It's not to say that your Facebook picture or your Instagram or any of those other ones that I'm not on are important to have a picture where you're dressed professionally. But the point is, you have to make sure the brand follows. Because if you see something on some of these other platforms where they talk about the importance of doing certain things, but then you get on those other platforms and it seems to contradict it, you're not really sure what you're getting. And if it's a competitive market, you're going back to the bottom of the list cuz they're not really sure what they're getting. If there are some other people that seem more consistent in their branding, 

Any tips for making a career change? 

Adam: A lot of people are changing jobs. I think one of the things that we've seen data-wise is that there was that and 20, mid-20, 21 into 2022 was like, it was the great resignation, remember this? Which ended up, at least as I'm reading it now, ended up being a little bit more of a fun term to talk about in the news than the reality. Cause the reality is, most of those people, they weren't quitting, no. They were moving jobs. So, what we had coming out of the pandemic, or at least lockdown, with office spaces was people moving positions. 

Rob: Right, right. 

Adam: And it's still going on at a little bit of a higher right now, it's tapered off a bit, but for those people, they're moving jobs, they're leaving their positions available for you. What are some of those transferable skills? Like what are the things you should be doing? What's the stuff that you can be doing to pad your resume to make the move? How do you make the move? 

Rob: Yeah. And the reason why this is so interesting to talk about with the pandemic is because when I, or anybody I've worked with, works with a mid-career individual that's thinking, I wanna make the jump from here to here, the first question we always ask them is, why? So what's the goal? Because that really impacts what you are going to do next. And the reason why, and that's always been the case anytime, even pre-pandemic, somebody wants to make that jump. The reason is cuz there's some, there's a why behind it. And the pandemic caused a mass of people, a mass amount of people to think about what that why is in their life because they're seeing people get sick, they're having, they're working from home, which is maybe something they've never experienced. They might have young families that they're thinking about, this has been great for my family to have this flexibility or what's the impact been on my students in their education because they're in elementary school or middle school or high school. 

So we saw during the great resignation, a lot of people thinking about that why. So when we talk to people, we always ask them that question. They're saying, oh cuz a lot of times, right, they'll, they'll call us up or they'll talk to me and say, "Hey, I wanna switch industries or I wanna go for this job or whatever." And I ask them why? Because let's be honest, flexibility in your work environment is a very different why than maybe income is, right? So if the point is income, I want to be making more money. So you're looking at, so maybe that's not really switching industries, it's going for a promotion or maybe it's switching industries to something that is a higher paid industry to work in. So what we talked to them when we were, you know, we were talking earlier about the, the T-shaped professional. 

You really have to, when you're jumping industries, you have to look at that, that top bar across the T shape, right? So you talked about the transferable skills and that is a majority of the time what's at the top, right? So sometimes it is breadth in your industry that you're working in, but a lot of times it is then the transferable skills. Cuz you might know this, but you need to know certain things in order to be effective at it. So we ask them to look at several things. The first thing is what, after we talk about the why that determines next steps. If you are looking to move up sometimes then that conversation is about upskilling. So, there are a lot of things like badges and credentials that are out there that you can go, that might make you more marketable for that next position. 

Sometimes if it's, if it's a big jump, maybe somebody that went right into the workforce out of high school or maybe took a couple of college classes, but then decided not to complete their degree and went into the workforce, sometimes they need to take that jump to come back to school to get a bachelor's degree or maybe it's a bachelor's and I really want this MA, I want this director-level position at my place, but I have to have a masters. So sometimes upskilling is part of it. If that's not the case, then it's, most of the time it's talking about the different skill sets across that top T, the transferable skills, communication, leadership, ability to work with others, things of that nature. 

How can I set myself apart in an interview?

Adam: Probably means too that when you're in those kinds of interviews, and just in general too, not just if I'm trying to convince somebody that I, my transferable skills are, are good and I can go from whatever finance to education. That's important. I'll just use that as an example, but I think, you know, it's the same thing if you're getting off the start for your first job or two, like I need to be able to sell those skills, right? So having that conversation means when they ask me Question A, I need to be able to get to certain points in here, right? Like I need to be prepped to go, like, I might not get asked exactly the question that I want to give the best answer cause I know that there's gonna be value if I get to talk about this thing or this project that it did. You need to look yeah, for ways to, to kind of get that in there, right? Like to say the thing. 

Rob: And I know the question we're talking about here isn't necessarily specific to interviews, but my strategy when I am coaching somebody and talking to them about going and doing the interview, that's the most intimidating part is that first interview. Sometimes there's a second, maybe a third depending on the type of position and how high up it is. But that first interview is always the most nerve-wracking because you can spend all day and all night tweaking your resume, tweaking your cover letter until you're happy with the send it in a resume, in an interview, you say something once it's out there. Yeah. So my strategy is always exactly to what you're saying and it can be even more vital in this situation where maybe the line is not directly drawn is to go in and say, in order for me to be competitive in getting this position, I've got to share these five things. 

Maybe it's these two projects, maybe it's a story by the time I did this. And I need to make sure that I can show that I have these two technical skills that they're looking for, even though they might not think I do based on my previous experience or my previous position. So you gotta go in and you're absolutely right. So I've got these five things, I've got 'em on my notes, I gotta hit them on some point if I'm gonna get a chance at being pushed through. So then I look for the question in how to apply it so you don't know your questions ahead of time, but you can still know what you're gonna talk about ahead of time and you just find a way to almost adapt the question they're asking to the answer you want to give. 

Adam: Rob, thanks so much for being here and telling me all about career development. First people at Central Michigan University and anywhere else they might be. 

Rob: Happy to be here. Thanks so much. 

Adam: Thanks for stopping by The Search Bar. Subscribe or follow so that you never have to search for the next episode

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Meet your host

Adam Sparkes is a nearly 20-year veteran of commercial, editorial, news and travel photography. A lover of news, pop culture, board games and gluten-free pizza, Adam is eternally curious to learn about anything and everything.

In addition to his role as host for “The Search Bar,” Adam serves as CMU’s associate director of multimedia and photography where he can be found crawling on the ground or sprinting down the sidelines to get the perfect shot.

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